The decision [PDF] in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Committee is a sequel of sorts to the controversial Citizens United case from 2010, in which the nation’s highest court struck down limits on independent campaign spending by corporations and unions, effectively giving these entities the same rights as individuals.
The McCutcheon ruling does not affect the $2,600/candidate personal donation limit that exists for primary and general election campaigns. Rather, it removes caps that limited a person’s overall campaign contributions during a two-year span.
Prior to today’s ruling, individuals could only donate a total of up to $48,600 every two years for contributions to federal candidates. Likewise, individuals were limited to $74,600 in donations to political action committees.
The case had been brought by an Alabama businessman who claimed that his Constitutional rights were violated because the spending limits only allowed him to contribute to the campaigns of 16 candidates, when there were an additional dozen to whom he wanted to give his financial support. Additionally, the limits prevented him from donating more money to PACs he supported.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., agreed, writing for the majority that “There is no right in our democracy more basic than the right to participate in electing our political leaders.”
Roberts likens those who are offended by the idea of too much money being thrown around in politics to those who are offended by pornography — both may disgust you, but he believes the Constitution also protects them both as free expression.
“Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects,” writes the Chief Justice. “If the
First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests, and Nazi parades—despite the profound offense such spectacles cause — it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition.”
Writing for the dissenting justices, Stephen Breyer argues that today’s decision has opened a Pandora’s box of influence-peddling in politics.
“If the court in Citizens United opened a door, today’s decision may well open a floodgate,” writes Breyer, who said the ruling “misconstrues the nature of the competing constitutional interests at stake. It understates the importance of protecting the political integrity of our governmental institutions. It creates a loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or to a candidate’s campaign.”
Later today, we’ll take a look at the impact the McCutcheon decision could have on consumers.